If the 2004-05 season was subtitled "The Great Escape" for West Bromwich Albion, this campaign appears destined to be "The One That Got Away".
How many opportunities do they want? Leading a tired and jaded Portsmouth – who suffered an "horrendous" journey back from their Uefa Cup exit on Thursday night away to Wolfsburg according to manager Tony Adams – they contrived to leave the pitch clutching one point having almost lost all three.
They did lose their main striker. Ishmael Miller was taken to hospital suffering from suspected medial knee ligament damage after a collision with David James. "Experience tells me he'll be out for a minimum of six weeks," said manager Tony Mowbray, who added he will have to try to bring in loan players in January to address his side's mis-firing forward line.
Even though they arrested a run of four straight defeats, the expressions on the West Bromwich players' faces said it all at the end – it looked more like another loss. Their supporters, yet again, went muttering into the cold Black Country air: "We played the better football, but couldn't take our chances". It's a melancholy mantra in the Midlands. "When you haven't won for so long these games become edgy," Mowbray reasoned.
It was West Bromwich who Portsmouth beat back in May 2005 to, in all improbably, save themselves from Premier League relegation. They talk about having more quality, better players and so on this time round – all undoubtedly true – but they lack edge, bite, a killer instinct.
Back then West Bromwich had 16 points from 16 games – and were still bottom at Christmas – this morning they have collected four fewer points from the same number of matches, 16, and they are hardly cut adrift.
Yesterday there was mitigation for Portsmouth. Their chartered aircraft back from Germany suffered engine failure, necessitating another night in Hanover which meant the players did not arrive back until 2pm on Friday. Some appeared to have suffered more than others, although Adams offered a unique turn of phrase for a poor performance from Nadir Belhadj. "Nadir has taken a dip on physiology," he said. You what?
Mowbray must have uttered just that at an horrendous miss by Chris Brunt in the first-half. The midfielder ran on to a through ball by Miller after it clipped off the heels of a back-tracking Sylvain Distin but, with James stranded, he curled his shot woefully wide of the far post with his favoured left foot.
He made some recompense, however, as it was from his fierce free-kick that West Bromwich took the lead. Sol Campbell was harshly punished for, allegedly, leaning on Miller – the offence, if anything, was probably the other way – and from just outside the area Brunt smashed a fierce effort against the post with Jonathan Greening reacting quickly to skilfully turn the rebound into the net for his first goal of the campaign.
West Bromwich should have pressed on, but they didn't and with Portsmouth re-grouping at half-time, and Glen Johnson emerging as the game's most potent attacker, the visitors surged forward and struck back when the ball broke to Peter Crouch, after Jonas Olsson's heavy tackle on Sean Davis, and his shot, from 25 yards, deflected off Abdoulaye Méïté to beat Scott Carson. It was Crouch's ninth goal of the season, making him Portsmouth's top scorer.
Johnson should have secured the lead, but side-footed over, after a superb run into the area and then embarrassed Carson, who fumbled his cross, but eventually cleared, although there were claims the ball had gone over the line. "Maybe it was two points dropped," Adams admitted. Mowbray could have said the same.
Goals: Greening (39) 1-0; Crouch (58) 1-1.
West Bromwich (4-4-1-1): Carson; Zuiverloon, Meite, Olsson, Robinson; Morrison, Valero (Bednar, 67), Koren, Brunt; Greening; Miller (Moore, 77). Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Cech, Barnett, Kim, Teixeira.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Pamarot; Kranjcar, Diop, Davis, Belhadj (Little, h-t); Crouch (Kanu, 90), Defoe. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Hreidarsson, Nugent, Wilson, Mvuemba.
Bookings: Portsmouth Diop, Johnson; West Bromwich Robinson.
Referee: M Dean (Merseyside).
Man of the match: Johnson.
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